Very pleasant wiggles and noodles, to a beat, for a full (but pleasant!) minute, lead us with a nice electronic swoosh into a more succinct synth line (1:11) that feels briefly like a more “normal” intro; a couple of evocative sighs later, the first verse at long last appears (1:26). And quite a sweet and incisive melody line we get, with its double-time descent and half-time re-ascent, playing off layers of chiming keyboards. Suddenly it feels like this meandering song is in fact a song that means a lot of business. But exactly what kind of business remains unclear. Without repeating the verse, a vigorous instrumental section leads us into an extended middle section that seems sort of like a bridge except we haven’t come across the chorus yet.
And no chorus in fact materializes. Back we go to the introductory sighs and then an exact repeat of the first verse (2:45), reinforcing just how tidy and attractive a melody this is. And now we finally begin to feel grounded as the melody recycles, with new words, two more times. We end with fading noodles over the now-assertive drum beat, left to contemplate what it was we just heard. What kind of song was that? The structure is partially backwards, and partially inside out. It begins at its vaguest and yet also holds the ear. The most memorable melody is repeated not at the beginning but the end. No chorus in fact materializes. This is all highly enjoyable, if in a vague and noodly way.
The Sea and Cake are a Chicago quartet that has been recording since 1994, with a hiatus taken from 2004 to 2007. “Harps” is from a new album called Runner, which was written in a new way for the band. This time around, front man Sam Prekop put the guitar down and began songs with a synthesizer/sequencer. The songs went from Prekop to his three band mates remotely, and each was encouraged to do what he saw fit with it. The final songs were often quite different than Prekop’s early sketchings, and even within each song, the musical arc often moved in unanticipated ways. This no doubt has something to do with the unique path “Harps” takes.